Massive and awe inspiring,” are the only words firsttimers could manage. Yes, we are talking about the annual International ESRI User Conference, the 28th edition this year, at San Diego Convention Centre, California.
About 14,000 professionals from 110 countries cutting across various industries participated in the largest geographic information system (GIS) conference in the world from August 4-8 to acquire new knowledge and skills, forge and build new relationships, understand and update themselves with the latest technology and share their experiences.
The conference kick-started with President Jack Dangermond’s inspirational speech. Dangermond welcomed the delegates to the five-day GIS extravaganza and outlined the vision of the conference – Geography In Action – saying, “You are part of a long history of geography in action – to create better understanding and new approaches to problem solving. Your work with GIS is extending and accelerating this knowledge.”
“We live in a rapidly changing world driven by population growth and human action, impacting the natural world – climate, biodiversity, natural resources, energy, economy – all this challenging the sustainability of the planet. At the same time, GIS is emerging and changing everything. GIS is also changing how we work with a science based approach, making it more systematic, holistic, analytic, quantitative and visual,” Dangermond opined.
Dangermond then outlined his vision for the future of GIS. He said GIS will become a pervasive part of all human action. This will be enabled by evolving technologies. To substantiate his argument, he cited that GIS is already creating a strong foundation for action with 100s of thousands of applications across many disciplines and organisations. “I believe that GIS work is driving change and is creating a digital foundation by abstracting data, models and workflows. Our thinking is becoming spatially integrated, changing how we reason, defining patterns of our actions, evolving collaborative structures, “said Dangermond.
He described how GIS is enacting change within IT user communities. “Today’s GIS implementations follow three patterns, the desktop for creating and editing data, the sever for sharing information to a wider audience, and the federated systems, which join together server technologies for collaborating and sharing information across organisations. These three provide a foundation for the fourth – GIS on the Web
power of GIS, going far beyond mapping and visualisation and ultimately becoming an essential part of the infrastructure of the society. GIS professionals will implement this infrastructure by authoring and serving geographic knowledge, by constructing libraries of shared GIS services, reaching new communities of users,” he concluded.
The most important component of a successful GIS is not the software but rather the people who use it. “In 2008,” said Dangermond, “one-quarter million organisations used ArcGIS in their work, which has been a spectacular endeavour. From this group, ESRI expressly acknowledges 150 outstanding users by conferring its special achievement in GIS award.”
The President’s Award was given to the City of Philadelphia for multiple uses of resources and data. It was accepted by Jim Querry, director of enterprise GIS. “GIS is enabling city leaders to make better decisions and achieve numerous goals as an information framework,” Jim Querry said. The President’s Award is a special recognition by Dangermond to an organisation that is a model for others to follow in implementing GIS successfully as well as making a positive impact on the environment and society.
QATAR BAGS ESRI AWARDS
The Centre for GIS (CGIS) in Qatar was honoured with the Enterprise Application Award during the inaugural session. The award recognises organisations that maximise the benefits of GIS functionality acrossx the enterprise. CGIS is leveraging ESRI’s ArcGIS suite of software among more than 44 government agencies that are integrated through a high-speed fiber-optic network. CGIS won five other awards for its maps and applications at the conference, including the “Best Overall” map, chosen from more than 900 entries.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Jack Dangermond presented a Making a Difference Award to Rósario C Grustide Pérez and Ramón A. Pérez for research about urban poverty in the barrios of Caracas. The second award in the same category was bagged by US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne for his steadfast commitment to encouraging data sharing throughout the federal government and for using geospatial technology to make decisions.
Receiving the award, Kempthorne said he worked hard to break down barriers that bogged down data sharing within the Department of Interior. “There’s no end to the importance of geospatial technology in problem solving, whether it’s mapping wildfires or earthquakes to put plans in motion to protect communities or using it to help find new energy sources while still protecting wildlife,” said Kempthorne.
He announced that the 35-year LANDSAT archive will be available free of cost through the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science
Data Center website at by the end of the year. It will help people better understand what is driving changes to our land, air, and water resources, he opined.
Peter Raven, a well known botanist and environmentalist and president of Missouri Botanical Garden, delivered the keynote address, in which he described the environmental diversity of the planet and the challenges for humans to live in a sustainable world. He illustrated the many problems with growing populations, altered landscapes, over-consumption and climate change. These are rapidly altering the face of our environment.
Raven concluded, “Technological tools such as GIS bring to bear a proper understanding of these problems and a proper solution. It helps us in our endeavours to develop love and concern for other people. These tools equip us to turn from passivity toward active engagement in developing much needed solutions.”
JACK BAGS ICA MEDAL
The International Cartographic Association (ICA) presented Jack Dangermond with its highest honour, the Carl Mannerfelt Medal during the user conference.
The Mannerfelt Gold Medal recognises extraordinary merit in cartography including the conception, production, dissemination and study of maps. Dangermond is the eleventh recipient of the medal.
THE HEAT IS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
The plenary session echoed with talk on sustainability of planet earth. Keynote speaker Peter Raven too laid emphasis on the sustainability of the world. Keeping in tune with these sentiments, ESRI had a new thematic track this year – Climate Change GIS. Dr. Stephen H Schneider, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and presidential adviser on climate change, in his keynote speech, presented the work of IPCC showing evidence of global warming and projected the trend to continue through the end of this century. ESRI is promoting GIS as a tool to understand climate change within the ecological and atmospheric sciences. More than 20 presentations, panel discussions and meetings were organised for ESRI’s strategic partners to demonstrate the usage of GIS in climate research.
A huge pavilion on conservation had many inspiring works of Jane Goodall Institute, the Greenbelt Movement of Wangri Mathai, Aboriginal Mapping Network, Nature Conservancy and others. Visitors learned about a selection of inspiring conservation programmes.
Demo theaters spread across the ESRI Showcase were the most popular ones with delegates filling the seats to understand the latest from ESRI stables.
The Map Gallery proved to be a major hit with the delegates. With more than 900 maps and nearly 20 special displays in this year’s exhibition, gallery traffic was high.
Among the Special Displays this year was NASA/JPL-This World and Others: GIS at NASA, National Geographic Maps, and The United Nations Showcase: One UN.
Included among the many distinguished map posters were “Using a Knowledge Base to Evaluate Aquatic System Integrity on National Forest Land,” “Afghanistan GIS – Census Mapping,” “Mapping Ancient Texts,” and “San Diego County Firestorm 2007 GIS Response.”
A wide variety of technical sessions and activities gave a knowledge upheaval to all the participating members of the GIS community. Technical keynotes, given by ESRI directors, gave users insight into implementing GIS on the Web, scientific context for GIS analysis and modelling, and meeting customer needs.
Users also attended technical workshops to learn detailed technology and solution tips. Additionally, attendees gleaned information from presentations by other users detailing their GIS experiences.
The gala dinner with full of jazz, food, and street performances on a scenic marina in the backdrop of a serene sunset rejuvenated the delegates and the ESRI staff alike after an action-packed week of the conference and served as a cool place to meet old friends, make new acquaintances and promises to meet next year.